In a warning shot to outside conservative groups, the National Republican Senatorial Committee this week informed a prominent Republican advertising firm that it would not receive any contracts with the campaign committee because of its work with a group that targets incumbent Senate Republicans. Even more striking, a senior official at the committee called individual Republican Senate campaigns and other party organizations this week and urged them not to hire the firm, Jamestown Associates, in an effort to punish them for working for the Senate Conservatives Fund, a group founded by Jim DeMint, then a South Carolina senator, that is trying to unseat Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and some other incumbents up for re-election next year whom it finds insufficiently conservative.
The 2014 primary season hasn't really begun in earnest just yet -- there are plenty of announced candidates, but the filing deadlines are still months away -- though it's already clear that the tensions within the Republican Party are likely to get worse.
For example, while the party establishment will naturally rally behind GOP incumbents, there are a variety of far-right groups that are eager to back more extreme challengers. Jonathan Martin reported on the party establishment playing hardball against the intra-party rivals.
NRSC spokesperson Brad Dayspring told the New York Times, "We're not going to do business with people who profit off of attacking Republicans. Purity for profit is a disease that threatens the Republican Party."
I realize that once we reach a point of campaign analysis based on vendors, it starts to look like inside baseball, but stick with me because this is interesting.
On both sides of the aisle, there are private-sector businesses that effectively serve the role of contractors and subcontractors in campaigns. If you're a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, you'll choose from these firms to help oversee media buys, direct mail, polling, etc. If you're a Republican gubernatorial candidate, you'll do the same, but choosing from a different pool of businesses.
There are a finite number of these firms, and the quality of their work matters a great deal -- it can sometimes make the difference between victory and defeat. The business' names aren't genearlly familiar to the public, but among campaign professionals, they're well recognized and seen as important extensions of the party apparatus.
Last week, the NRSC decided one advertising firm, Jamestown Associates, deserves to be blacklisted within the party because of its associations. The firm has done business with Jim DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund, and the Senate Conservatives Fund is putting electable party incumbents at risk in primaries, so party leaders are spreading the word: don't do business with Jamestown Associates.
That's some pretty aggressive hardball.
What's more, it's obviously intended to send a signal throughout Republican politics: if you're a business that's working with groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund in GOP primaries, you may soon find yourself with a shrinking client list -- not because of the quality of your work, but because the Republican establishment is tired of getting hurt by these ugly primary fights.
In effect, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is telling vendors, "It's a nice campaign business you have here; it'd be a shame if something happened to it."
If the NRSC can throw its weight around, and vendors start to fear working with these outside groups, it'll have a real impact on the larger conflict within the party. If the threats fall on deaf ears, the party establishment may yet kick things up a notch.
It's an angle worth watching.